Feud over garden turns violent & bizarre

Feud over garden turns violent & bizarre

09 Ağustos 2018 - 02:00


JERSEY CITY — Astor Place runs for three blocks in a section of Jersey City one mile south of Journal Square. It’s a quiet neighborhood that is home to an elementary school, a community garden and three strips of row houses.

The street is also home to a neighbor-versus-neighbor battle that has brewed for years, a dispute that escalated from nasty messages on Facebook to Hudson County Superior Court, where four indictments were recently handed up, including one against longtime community leader Tinia Bland.

One side says they are victims of homophobia. The other says they’ve been targeted with racist attacks. One party was beaten until his jaw was broken. Another was bitten on the arm during a block party brawl.

This is the story of that feud. The matter has roiled this tight-knit community that sees itself as an oasis amid the urban clamor of Jersey City.

"I don’t know when the culture changed on the block," said Carol Harrison-Arnold, an Astor Place resident for 30 years. "It’s bizarre."


Tinia Bland in the Astor Place community garden in 2016.

Bland and her sister Vera live at 72 Astor Place. Tinia Bland, 61, president of the Astor Place Neighborhood Association, and Vera Bland, 64, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant, have lived here for over 40 years.

Across the street, at 73 Astor Place, are Fidel Hernandez, 58, and Glenn Trickel, 56. They work in the food industry and call themselves gay housemates, not a couple. Hernandez bought their rowhouse in 2004.

It’s unclear how relations between the four soured. The men told The Jersey Journal they initially sparred with Tinia Bland over the neighborhood association, saying she runs it without input from much of the community and elects herself president without holding elections. She denied this in an interview with The Jersey Journal. The men say the Blands are homophobic. Tinia Bland denied this too.

In 2012, both sides agree, Trickel asked for a plot in the neighborhood group’s community garden and Tinia Bland said no. In 2013, Trickel and Tinia Bland ran on opposing slates to be elected committee people for the local Democratic Party. He won, she lost. Someone close to Bland said the loss "absolutely" bugged her.

A woman who lives around the corner said the fight represents "old guard versus new guard" in a part of the city that has attracted newer, wealthier residents lured by the vintage row houses.

"We’re lucky what’s happening on Astor Place isn’t happening everywhere in Jersey City," said the woman, who asked not to be identified discussing the dispute.


Residents gathering for the Astor Place Neighborhood Association's 2016 block party. To the left of the crime scene unit truck is the small party hosted by Fidel Hernandez and Glenn Trickel outside their row house.

The feud intensified at the neighborhood association’s Aug. 20, 2016 block party. The event was billed as a "celebration of unity." It ended with a violent scuffle between Vera Bland and Hernandez that sent Bland to the hospital.

Both sides told their version of events during court hearings last year. The Blands and their friend Deborah Alston, who are black, testified Hernandez repeatedly shouted racist remarks at them during the block party. Hernandez denied this. A neighbor who was present, Damien Spivak, 39, told The Jersey Journal Hernandez said nothing racist. Hernandez admitted he was drunk but "having a great time."

Everyone agreed that around 7 p.m. Hernandez was on the street outside his house — he was serving food, iced tea and wine to a group of his friends — and Vera Bland was nearby. Hernandez said he was giving a speech to his friends, remarks he said he gave to contrast their unity with the divisiveness he credits to Tinia Bland and her neighborhood group.

"This is what it should be like," Hernandez told them, according to his testimony. "I end up by saying, I am Astor Place. I am Astor Place block association."

That, he said, angered Vera Bland.

"She knocks me to the ground and starts clawing my face," he said. "I felt the energy in her nails as she was just tearing my skin. The only thing that I could do was bite her."

Vera Bland testified that Hernandez was the aggressor.

"He charges me and knocked me to the ground," she said. "He gave me such … a bite on my arm and I’m trying to pull it away and I can just feel the skin being pulled off my arm."


Vera Bland displays her wrist after telling police Fidel Hernandez bit her at the 2016 Astor Place block party.

Neighbors separated them before cops arrived. Vera Bland was bleeding, her sister said. So was Hernandez, Trickel said. An ambulance brought Vera Bland to Jersey City Medical Center, while Officer Albert Bauer arrested Hernandez and charged him with disorderly conduct, Bauer’s police report says.

Bauer testified that Hernandez threatened him with retaliation. Hernandez said he "knew the mayor and other council members and he would be sure to let them know what happened," according to the report.

After being released from jail, Hernandez barraged the neighborhood group’s Facebook page with messages directed at Tinia Bland, which she read in court.

"We all hate you on this block," one said. "Nobody collectively hates someone like we hate you."

Security footage from a camera on Astor Place on Sept. 15, 2016. The volume is very low, but at :21 you can hear a small explosion (the incident happens off screen) then at :48 you can hear someone yelling.

Hostilities escalated.

One month later, on Sept. 15, 2016, Hernandez and Trickel reported that someone hurled a Molotov cocktail at their house. The men say the device was so poorly made, there was little damage. Police reported seeing broken glass on the front yard and the top of a glass bottle stuffed with paper or a rag.

On Nov. 21, 2016, Trickel told police he was giving a neighbor some food when Tinia Bland ran over, said, "Don't take anything from him," grabbed the food and threw it to the ground, a police report says.

The Blands and Alston, their friend, began filing complaints with the police against the men. In June 2017, the women alleged, Hernandez drove by them shouting, "I'm going to kill all you,” followed by a racial epithet. On Oct. 6, 2017, the Blands told police the men distributed a flyer at a council candidate forum — one sponsored by Tinia Bland's nonprofit BITE (Black Interest Team Enterprise) — that targeted the sisters and included an image of a noose. The men denied the claims.



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